Pulitzer Center Update March 1, 2016

This Week: Bombs Away

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Image by Daniel Sagalyn.

The Pentagon plans to replace the current nuclear arsenal, including 12 new nuclear armed submarines...

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How much is too much? Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has drastically reduced its stockpile of nuclear weapons from a high of more than 30,000 warheads in the mid-1960s to little more than 5,000 today. Still, that's more than enough to terminate humanity.

In the third installment of their multi-part series for the PBS NewsHour, Pulitzer Center grantees Dan Sagalyn and Jamie McIntyre look at the thinking behind America's nuclear triad—a strategic set-up that relies on aircraft, submarines and land-based missiles to strike an adversary—and the Pentagon's plans for a trillion dollar upgrade of its nuclear arsenal over the next three decades.

Military commanders and administration officials say nuclear weapons are used every day to deter a nuclear attack against the U.S. and that the current stockpile needs to be replaced and modernized—the B-52H bombers being flown today are older than the crews that fly them. But two leading critics, former defense secretary William Perry and retired Gen. James Cartwright, say one leg of the triad—land-based nuclear tipped missiles—should be scrapped because it poses almost as much of threat to the U.S. as it does to an enemy.

If you are a teacher, and you would like to use the NewsHour reporting in your classroom, click here for a lesson designed by our education team. Or you can use the Lesson Builder to design your own, drawing from our growing archive of reporting on nuclear security. It's easy to use—and it's free.


The U.S. isn't the only country in the throes of a cantankerous election season. Iran went to the polls on Friday to elect members of the 290-person parliament and the 88-man Assembly of Experts, the clerical body that will ultimately choose the next Supreme Leader. Early returns show the moderates doing well, but final results have not yet been released.

In a dispatch for Vice News, Pulitzer Center grantee Reese Erlich notes that about one third of Iran's 55 million eligible voters are under 30. "They tend to vote for reform-minded candidates, and a large youth turnout could steer Iran further away from the strict conservatives."

The election pits reformists and centrists against the so-called Principlists who oppose reform-minded President Hassan Rouhani and distrust his openings to the West. One analyst in Tehran said the Principlists bore some resemblance to Donald Trump. "They speak their mind," he told Reese. "They don't worry about being politically correct. [They] cater to people's fears."


In a blunt Q&A with Pulitzer Center grantee Justin Catanoso, Harvard climate scientist Naomi Oreskes said the recent Paris climate agreement was a positive step, but expressed frustration that the Obama administration has not done more to curb greenhouse gas emissions in this country.

"Obama claims to have an energy and climate policy. But he doesn't. He has an energy policy. When he announced a long time ago that he was going to have an 'all of the above' strategy, that was an energy policy, not an energy and climate policy. If the United States is just worried about energy then we can frack for gas and oil, we can burn coal," she told Justin in an interview that appears in Mongabay. "If we are worried about energy and climate, it's a very different picture."

Justin asked Oreskes if she was pessimistic about the fate of the planet: "It's more like I feel sad," she said. "There is a kind of sadness associated with the fact that at some level, we've blown it. We had the opportunity 20 years ago to act on this issue before climate change was locked in. We knew what to do 20 years ago."

Until next week,

Tom Hundley
Senior Editor


Nuclear Threats


Nuclear Threats

Nuclear Threats